Every spring, fourth grade students at Octorara Elementary School complete a biography unit which culminates in a Living History Museum. During the weeks leading up to the opening of the museum, students listen to and work with several biographies. They also talk with teachers Mrs. Joan McDermott and Mrs. Dana Irons about the impact individuals from the past have had on the present and how their contributions will continue to impact the future. From there, students are tasked with discovering at least three people who made a difference in the world. They can get help from family members and from the internet. Then each student is assigned either their top choice or second choice person to research. Project resources include iPads, school library books, classroom library books and resource material from the Chester County Library.
While students read, they use a strategy called “post-it” to collect information on the person’s early life, adult life, contributions, and any interesting facts. After about two weeks of researching and collecting notes, students are ready to sort the sticky notes. Each student puts his or her notes in order and prioritizes the supporting details. Once that is finished, they write their speech as if they are the famous person. This part takes about two weeks as teachers work with each student to edit their writing. Once the piece is edited, students write out their speech on index cards. Finally, practice makes perfect until the grand opening of the Living History Museum.
The 2019 edition of Octorara’s Living History Museum included first person presentations from a wide variety of scientists, explorers, founding fathers, presidents, health care professionals, astronauts, entertainers, and more.